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  • JP Magazine
  • Dirt Sports + Off-Road
  • 4-Wheel & Off-Road
  • Four Wheeler

Revisiting the Hazel Flattie After 15 years on the Trail

Posted in Project Vehicles on January 16, 2019
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This 1953 DJ-3A was never technically a project vehicle for 4-Wheel & Off-Road magazine, although I did purchase it in late 2000 when I was technical editor here. I promptly tore it apart, boxing the frame and hanging YJ springs atop Currie 9-inch axles. Then I let it sit for just over a year.

In 2002 I moved over to Jp magazine and dove back into the flattie build, finishing it in the fall of 2003. I used a “Shortstar” LX5 3.5L GM DOHC V-6 mated to an SM420 with a 60-degree 2.8L V-6 bellhousing out of a junkyard Camaro. The T-case was a Spicer 18 built from a Dana 20 case and a genuine Warn overdrive. The low-pinion Ford 9-inch axles had 5.83 gears with a spool in the rear and a Detroit Locker in the front. I got tired of snapping my traction bar and/or brackets so I swapped out the stock YJ rear springs to a spring-under setup using 4 1/2-inch Rubicon Express packs. Then, after chucking the guts from the Spicer 18 for a second time, I installed a Dana 300 with front and rear 32-spline JB Conversion output shafts ( When I did the Dana 300 swap I also swapped the rear axle for a centered Currie housing with a TrueHi 9 centersection running 5.38 gears on a 35-spline spool. I swapped the front gears to match and have been wheeling it like that ever since.

Although they have been my all-time favorite rockcrawling tire of all time, BFG no longer makes the 35x13.50R15 size and my tires have a build date code from 2002. It’s not wise to run 16-year-old tires on the street at 75 mph for long periods of time, so I’ll be looking at other tire options with a similar 35x13.50 or 35x14.50 footprint.

However, a few things about the Jeep as it sits have always bothered me. For one, I had to mount the triple Wilwood master cylinders so high on the firewall to clear the big LX5 engine that I had to run remote reservoirs. The brake fluid-spec rubber hose that came with the Wilwood kit wasn’t long enough, so I used fuel-injection hose, figuring I’d swap to the correct flex hose from Wilwood later ( That never happened, and the parts store line I bought recently failed, sending paint-stripping brake fluid all over my dash and floor. I need to swap out the brake reservoir hoses with the correct Wilwood stuff and flush the brake system.

Also, while I love the durability of the Dana 300, I miss the Overdrive of the Spicer 18. Not being able to drive this Jeep for very long distances is a bummer, so I’ll be swapping in a Spicer 18 built by Herm the Overdrive Guy along with an ATV Mfg Overdrive ( and swapping the rear housing and shafts to accommodate the offset T-case.

Finally, when I did the fuel system I simply stuck an RCI 15-gallon fuel cell in the rear of the tub and built a fuel system out of braided AN line and an external fuel pump. Nowadays the higher Ethanol content of gasoline has been eating the braided hose, which springs leaks. And I do want to be able to run a rear seat in this sucker, so I’m talking with Aqualu ( about building a custom aluminum fuel tank that will fit under the rear of the Jeep and then I’ll use a GM in-tank pump and GM factory-spec lines that will survive long-term better with 15 percent Ethanol fuel.

I can’t really remember why I originally hung the Wilwood remote reservoirs from the center of the ’cage crossbar. Could’ve been something as silly as I was using an existing hole in the dash. I might move them to in front of the steering wheel, where my kids won’t be tempted to kick them.
As a 1953 DJ prototype, this Jeep had a fabricated under-tub fuel tank from the factory that indexed a filler at the passenger-rear corner. You can just see a vestigial remnant where I cut the tub for 35s. If I had thought ahead 15 years I probably would have kept that tank and modified it for fuel injection, but I think Aqualu can build me something that will work with the pushed-back rear axle and still hold about 12 gallons.
The RCI cell has been flawless for 15 years, with no leaks or issues. However, I would really love to be able to fit camping gear, cargo, and even a seat for two additional passengers in this space.
I used a lot of race components from Earl’s ( when I built the fuel system. The parts are of excellent quality, but most of the rubber parts haven’t lasted more than 10 years with California’s new cruelty-free hippy fuel, so I’ll build new stuff with GM-spec components and will repurpose all the Earl’s products in another build—maybe a diesel.
This is the original Optima BlueTop battery I got for this rig back in 2002 or very early 2003, and it only recently developed a bad cell. It is mounted on its side in a custom bracket I built under the driver’s seat. I bought an Optima YellowTop to replace it, so here’s hoping I get another 16 years of hard service out of the new Optima!
If you look past the Hella 500 “headlights,” past the double-pass radiator, past the Mobi-Arc onboard welder, and past the massive LX5 DOHC cylinder head, you’ll see my recent attempt at fitting the factory integral reservoirs. Unfortunately, I’d have to cut a hole in the hood to make ’em work. I’ll source the correct hose from Wilwood and just replace the parts store rubber fuel injection hose I used instead.
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